Vaishravana with attendants, a woodblock print on paper


British Museum

British Museum

This is one of the earliest dated examples of printing. The print was found together with the world's earliest dated printed book, The Diamond Sutra dated AD 868 (now in the British Library, London) and several thousand examples of Buddhist ephemera in the sealed library chamber of Cave 17.Vaishravana, Guardian King of the North, stands beneath a canopy and on the hands of the earth goddess. The stupa balanced on his left palm is a symbol of his role as one of the four guardians of the Buddhist universe. A halberd is held on the other hand. Shri Devi, Vaishravana's sister, stands on the left. The mongoose held by the gandharva (celestial musician) on the extreme right is a reference to Vaishravana's original identity as Kuvera, the Indian god of wealth. A yaksa holding a naked child stands between them. The child is said to represent one granted by the deity to a childless king of Khotan.The text which accompanies this illustration is an incantation in which Vaishravana's name is invoked for beneficial purposes. It names Cao Yuanzhong, the Imperial Governor at Dunhuang, as the patron who commissioned this print.The woodcut was printed from a single block. The format, with the illustration above and the text below, is known as shangtu xiawen. It is common in votive woodcuts. The paper loops at the top of the print were for suspension.

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  • Title: Vaishravana with attendants, a woodblock print on paper
  • Date Created: 947/947
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 40.00cm (impression); Width: 26.50cm (impression)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: woodblock
  • Subject: lokapala; canopy; stupa; arms/armour; deity; attendant
  • Registration number: 1919,0101,0.245
  • Production place: Printed in China
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Qian Fo Dong. Excavated/Findspot
  • Period/culture: Five Dynasties
  • Material: paper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Collected by Stein, Marc Aurel
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